A couple of years ago I posted about the difference (or lack thereof) between Dewalt 20V Max and Dewalt 18V XR tools, but there is still a lot of confusion about what Dewalt 20V Max really means.
In the most simplistic terms, Dewalt 20V Max = 18V. These aren’t 20V battery packs, they’re 18V battery packs.
If you didn’t already know this, don’t worry, it’s not just you. 4-1/2 years later, lots of people still assume 20V Max is more powerful than 18V.
I have yet to determine whether there are more people that know what 20V Max means, or more people that assume 20V Max is more powerful than 18V.
If you are first learning that 20V Max and 18V are the same, don’t feel too bad, you’re probably still in the majority.
When Dewalt first launched their 20V Max lineup with 20V Max branding, their marketing exec said it was to “avoid confusion.” They said that the intent was to differentiate the new tools from previous 18V tools so that users would know they were not backwards compatible.
Things have gotten a little more convoluted since then. Everywhere outside North America, there is no “20V Max.” Dewalt’s current generation of Li-ion power tools are simply branded 18V XR.
Here in the USA, Dewalts more premium brushless tools and higher capacity battery packs have 20V Max XR branding. These tools and batteries didn’t exist until a few years after the 20V Max platform launched.
So now we have 20V Max and 20V Max XR, compared to 18V XR everywhere else.
4-1/2 years ago, in a comment following my Dewalt 20V Max power tool line launch post, I responded to a reader and said:
When I pushed my questions about this, I was told that there is a far larger existing Dewalt userbase in the USA and that when they observed groups’ behavior when comparing tool lines, they saw much confusion. Users would try to connect the 20V Max batteries to the 18V tools and vice versa.
20V Max does also have marketing benefits. Here in the USA, many of us always assume the bigger, the better.
Which would you think is more powerful, an 18V power tool or 20V power tool? “Well duh, 20V,” is the default thinking of a lot of people, or at least many if not most Americans. It’s how we’re trained to think.
A 2.4 GHz computer processor is faster than 2.0 GHz, right? And a 24 megapixel camera is better than 18 megapixel, right? No, not necessarily. The same applies to power tools and voltage. No longer is it even true that an 18V tool is more powerful than a 12V tool. Err, excuse me, 12V Max.
Bigger, more, larger is often considered better. This used to be true for a lot of things, especially emerging technologies, until it stops being true. More pixels, faster processors, higher voltage cordless power tools.
But that’s not the case now because there are so many other variables. More pixels can be worse for camera image quality if the pixels are smaller and less sensitive. Faster processors won’t result in better performance compared to processors with multiple cores. A cordless power tool with a higher voltage battery won’t necessarily out-perform a tool with a lower voltage battery.
It doesn’t really matter why Dewalt decided to go with 20V Max branding in the USA, Canada, and Mexico, and 18V XR everywhere else outside of North America.
What is important is that users understand that 20V Max battery packs operate at 18V nominally.
If you measure the output of a 20V Max battery pack when it’s pulled right off a charger, it’ll measure somewhere around 20V. But once a load is applied and that battery pack is put to use, the output will be 18V.
When you look at the battery cells these packs are made from, the combined voltage adds up to 18V. They’re sold as 3.6V cells, not 4.0V cells.
I stopped adding “20V Max = 18V nominally” in 20V Max coverage because I assumed most people are aware of the distinction, but that unfortunately isn’t the case. It’s not that this piece of information is hidden, but it’s not made obvious enough by retailers, distributors, or even some Dewalt product pages.
Making matters worse, some sources perpetuate misinformation and confusion. For example, there’s one magazine that ran an entire review roundup featuring the “top 20V cordless drills.” 20V Max drills are 18V drills with fancy branding.
Now, before you get mad at Dewalt and other SBD brands for doing this, keep in mind they weren’t the first, and they’re not the only ones.
They also don’t hide that 20V Max = 18V nominally.
Kobalt rebranded their 18V power tools as 20V and “relaunched” them alongside new higher capacity battery packs. Rockwell also uses 20V Max branding, as does Craftsman for their Black & Decker-made 20V Max Bolt-On modular power tools.
Here’s why I’m not too upset at Dewalt for creating “20V Max” branding:
Back when 12V Max tools were released, they were 10.8V tools. I believe it began with Bosch’s 10.8V Pocket Driver.
Makita’s compact line started off as 10.8V too.
But then Milwaukee came out with M12. If you look carefully, you might notice that Milwaukee never ever references the battery voltage of their tools. Their compact line is simply M12, and full-size tools M18.
It was a clever way to brand a 12V-class power tool line without describing them as 10.8V.
After a while, Bosch moved to 12V Max in order to maintain competitiveness. Makita did the same.
I guess it works.
When Dewalt’s 12V Max Li-ion lineup launched, they immediately followed the 12V Max convention that other brands established.
So when the new 18V lineup was ready to launch, they went with 20V Max instead of 18V XR. Can you say that you would have done differently?
As a consumer, I still think it’s messy to have to look at a box and find out what the asterisk in 20V Max* means. But it’s still written out on the box.
Right on the front of a Dewalt cordless tool combo box, it says, in 3 languages, :
*Maximum initial battery voltage (measured without a workload) is 20 volts. Nominal voltage is 18.
Yes, it’s a little small, but it’s there, and possibly in multiple locations too.
It’s the worst-kept secret ever. But… that’s if you have a 20V Max power tool box in your hands. 20V Max is not as clearly disclosed online by retailers or even on Dewalt product pages.
For example, look at this Dewalt 20V Max cordless drill kit on Amazon. That’s their special $99 holiday promo drill/driver kit that has been very popular. Where on this purchase page does it say that 20V Max = 18V nominally?
In Amazon’s Technical Details list, it shows “20 volts” for Voltage.
But when you look at Dewalt product pages, there’s a disclaimer on *some* 20V Max tool pages, in the form of an image (link).
But then I look at other pages, such as for this screwgun, and it says 20V under Specifications.
Anyway, while I’m not excusing the decision, I can understand it. Outside of North America, 12V Max is simply 10.8V. Dewalt is at least consistent, following 12V Max with 20V Max.
One thing is for certain, there isn’t a lot of user confusion as to whether 18V XRP and 20V Max are one and the same. Most 18V XRP users are well aware of and upset at the incompatibilities, although an adapter is finally in the works. Even if that explanation was just the one Dewalt gave to media, it’s at least true.
It is what it is.
I can’t change Dewalt’s branding. If given the chance, would I? Possibly, as “18V XR” sounds a lot better and would help ToolGuyd’s Dewalt cordless tool coverage reach a more international audience. But what I can do is try spread awareness.
It’s the shopper or buyer’s due diligence to learn what 20V Max means. Wouldn’t 20V Max* stand out to you, when the other tools on the shelf say 18V? I’m pretty sure I’d want to know what that Max and asterisk meant.
20V Max* = 18V.
I sometimes take this information for granted. How many of you did NOT already know that 20V Max is just a fancier way of describing an 18V power tool?